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Lesotho’s soldiers “suffering” in Mozambique  

….deprived of adequate food rations

….. as gvt is accused of “neglecting” army

Tokelo Khausela

THE government has been accused of   neglecting the army,  with possible dire consequences for the country.

So bad was the situation that even Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers  battling an insurgency in northern Mozambique are going hungry because of  inadequate food rations, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard this week.

The LDF’s chief of logistics, Major-General Ramanka Mokaloba, warned the PAC that  the government’s “neglect”  of the military could have grave consequences for the country.

The situation was particularly embarrassing because the soldiers deployed to Mozambique’s  hotbed Cabo Delgado region, as part of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) contingent to thwart the insurgency there, were now in dire straits.

They were being forced to eat non-nutritious foods. It was as if they had just been sent there to perish because they were not wanted at home, disclosed Maj-Gen Mokaloba in patently bewildering revelations.

He spoke before the PAC as part of the committee’s probe into the corruption in the use of funds meant to fight Covid-19.  Tens of millions were allegedly looted by bureaucrats tasked with managing the funds.

Maj-Gen Mokaloba told the PAC that while soldiers at home were not fed highly nutritious foods to keep them in shape as per the requisite etiquette for security forces, their colleagues in Mozambique were worse-off.  They did not even have dry rations like tinned foods, peanuts, powdered milk and morvite (phuzamandla), an instant porridge yet they were fighting a war in a far flung area.

This was unlike their counterparts from other SADC countries, who were being well looked after by their countries. Lesotho’s soldiers were – as a result –  feeling abandoned by their government. It was  like they had been sent there to die because they were somehow not wanted at home,  he said.

Maj-Gen Mokaloba was speaking as one of the representatives of Lesotho’s security agencies deployed at the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) in Maseru at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.  NACOSEC was established to coordinate the fight against the pandemic yet it became a looting mechanism .

The security agencies had been summoned by the PAC to account for the M16 249 749 that was supposedly spent to buy them  food rations as they patrolled the country to enforce the covid-19 curfew.  Maj-Gen Mokaloba said the army had not been involved in the corruption as it was not involved in the actual procurement processes. He instead spoke passionately about how the army was being starved of resources and was suffering as a result.

“The government has neglected  our welfare and that of our brothers deployed to Mozambique. Parliament has deserted us, and we saw that clearly during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Maj-Gen Mokaloba said.

He made the remarks in  response to a question by Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) legislator, Advocate ‘Mamarame Matela, who had sardonically asked why security personnel were fed ‘phuzamandla’   (the dry porridge) when they played such a pivotal role in ensuring the security of the country.

Advocate Matela had remarked: “If we want our soldiers to be strong and energetic, we ought to feed them premium foods. If we are still feeding them phuzamandla, we are being cruel and selfish”.

In response, Major-General Mokaloba said if all Basotho cared for the welfare of the army the way Adv Matela had just demonstrated, then it would be a very welcome development. Every Mosotho could then go to bed well  “knowing that they have invested in their security”.

Maj-Gen Mokaloba then explained what transpired during the Covid-19 pandemic.  He said the army was not adequately provisioned to fulfil its duties of enforcing the curfew then.

“During the pandemic, we requested food but were given what was available. Morvite was the only food available, while other advanced foods such as Future Life (energy product) which contains many nutrients, were not available. And the soldiers deployed to Mozambique are still eating non-nutritious foods. They (government) have abandoned them there without any support. It’s like they were placed there to go and die as if they are troublesome and are not wanted in their country of origin,” he said, scathingly.

Maj-Gen Mokaloba said the role of “feeding a protector” like a soldier was a paramount need which ought to be honoured and respected by the government.

Maj-Gen Mokaloba said the army had not partaken in the looting of Covid-19 funds.

If another pandemic occurred in future, Maj-Gen Mokaloba said, government should have an oversight committee that would guide procurement processes “because in this case (the 2020-22 Covid period), there was a missing link”.

Although the LDF was afforded the opportunity to write the specifications of  the foods it  needed for its soldiers  deployed to different places countrywide  to enforce the Covid-19 curfew, it did not have a hand in the procurement processes. The selection of suppliers was done by NACOSEC.

The army only accepted the foodstuffs once they had been purchased and had no hand in their actual acquisition, Maj-Gen Mokalob insisted.

The PAC is currently probing the alleged theft of public funds during the Covid-19 pandemic. The committee has already heard stunning allegations of corruption in the management of funds meant to fight Covid-19. It last week heard how more than M22 million was used to buy lunches for bureaucrats stationed at the Command Centre, the NACOSEC offices at the Mathabiseng Convention Centre, from where the government’s anti-Covid-19 efforts were being coordinated, instead of buying the actual medical supplies required to fight the pandemic.

The Auditor-General’s office had since uncovered massive graft during the Covid-19 pandemic, mostly through the ludicrous inflation of goods purchased.  In its July 2021 audit report of Covid-19 expenditure,  the report exposed massive graft worth tens of millions.

Meanwhile, this is not the first time Maj-Gen Mokaloba has complained about the government’s “neglect” of the army due to inadequate resource allocation. In December 2022, the top army man granted the Lesotho Times an interview in which he spoke extensively about the poor state of the military.

He said in that interview that the LDF was much poorer compared to other armies in the region. He spoke against the army’s  “neglect” by politicians despite its mounting responsibilities. The soldiers’ poverty, he said, was demonstrated in their worn out uniforms, derelict buildings, ramshackle vehicles and outdated artillery.

He said while politicians had civilian control over the army, they had failed miserably to properly look after the LDF.

 “Unlike the armies of other countries, we are tasked with providing security at points where elderly citizens receive their monthly pensions, for instance. We drive old and beaten-up vehicles. We have ancestors for vehicles, some of them are as old as forty years. I’m not sure if I’m exposing the army, but our weaponry is old and tired. We are using weapons that, by right, should be destroyed after nine years of utilization. But we are still using them because our nation likes to benefit from us (soldiers) without giving anything in return,” Maj-Gen Mokaloba said.

“Politicians have civilian control over the army and that we accept and appreciate wholeheartedly. But they play no responsibility over the LDF, like ensuring we have decent uniforms. Our uniform is worn out, the LDF is poor. The LDF is worse off than most armies in the SADC region, but the responsibility and expectations are heavy on our shoulders.”

He added: “The only praise we get is for the boot-camps we hold to instil patriotism in Basotho youths and for working to uproot gangs known as manomoro . But the army was not established to hold boot-camps and uproot gangsterism.”

Maj-Gen Mokaloba’s latest revelations about the poor state of soldiers stationed in Mozambique are particularly shocking. The  LDF soldiers were sent to Mozambique in August 2021 to try and help quell a growing insurgency in that country. When armies are deployed into foreign lands, they are generally expected to be equipped by their  governments deploying them there. Moreso because the deployments are generally an acknowledgement of the host country’s incapacities.

Maj-Gen Mokaloba’s revelations that Lesotho’s soldiers are having to do without adequate food rations in a remote, far flung place would thus naturally be a huge cause for bafflement and concern for all and sundry.